by Ignacio Crescini – Head Coach at Vida Tennis MCC Glen Iris
Once, the legend of NCAA basketball, John Wooden, said to his players on a training practice: “In the next match, while we shake hands and wish good luck, I will give the opponent coach my playbook with all of our tactics”. The players were concerned and asked the coach why would he do such thing, and the answer was:
“COZ YOU ARE GOING TO EXECUTE THE PLAYS WITH SUCH PERFECTION THAT IS GOING TO MAKE THE PLAYBOOK USELESS FOR THE OPPOSITION’S COACH”.
When we learn to play from the baseline it´s a must to develop patterns that perhaps will make the opposition aware of what we are going to do but with the correct technique on the groundstrokes and a high level of intensity, and spreading little variances our opponents will struggle to neutralize them or at least, they will have to take low percentage shots and the objective of keeping our numbers on the positive end will be accomplished.
This article is related to what I called automatic-emergency options.
In this occasion we will focus ourselves on the defensive zones. Always looking forward to keep the ball away from being left short in the middle of the court, letting the opposition get into the court and finish the point, in clay-court countries like Argentina or Spain we have the belief that the depth and the second bounce (height and depth of the ball after bouncing) are equally important. Reason why players spend long hours hitting against the wall or doing long sessions of dead ball to develop strong weight transfers and racket speed.
Defensive Priorities from the Forehand side
When we are in a tough spot looking for balls in the corners our priority is to make a shot that will be safe enough to be hit with power and spin, but allowing us to take time away and keep the opposition behind the baseline, when we are learning to play tennis and even in training sessions we get the concept of going crosscourt from the forehand corner as a safe option in defense, which is true especially till 14 and under, but when we get to a higher level of competition in which the attacker will be faster and stronger to change the direction and enter the court going down the line the longest direction of the court becomes a problem more than a solution, unless our ball is bouncing high or 1 mt from the baseline, possible solutions for this situation:
- Start training the down the line shot 2 mts from the baseline and 1 mt from the sideline to develop a shot that needs less power and depth and with a good amount of spin will catch your opponent on the backhand corner and hopefully on his/her back foot.
- Train the decision making by calling a ball “easy”l and going hard crosscourt with power and less margin over the net, looking forward to transform that initially defensive ball into an attacking situation if you were able to position yourself earlier to hit the ball with more power and shifting your body weight forward due to lack of pace or depth from the opponent. Or call the ball “Hard” and change the speed and direction using the down the line option going high and heavy to the backhand side but not forcing too much the pace playing that ball that will get the opponent on a more uncomfortable position to keep control of the point.
Down the line vs Parallel
English is not my native language and as I started coaching in other countries than mine I learned the expression Down the Line, as years went by I used it regularly, but it is really inevitable for me to associate the sideline with that expression, which makes it seem more difficult, as aiming to a target that is has 3 mts of length and 5 cms of width is much harder than aiming to a zone of the court of about 4mts of length by 2mts of width. If you need to go down the line, avoid the sideline and aim 1-1.5mts inside that sideline and 1-2 mts from the baseline, as the court is shorter in that direction, making it easier to reach the baseline and push the opponent back on the backhand. Or you can even start calling that shot parallel ;).
Defensive Priorities from the Backhand side
Here the crosscourt option ( ideally 2 mts from the baseline and 2 mts from the sideline) still looks like a safe and useful idea, as it is quite harder to the average player to change directions down the line with the backhand and is more predictable to know that the opponent will try to go again crosscourt to avoid mistakes in case our defensive shot was good, in the case that we see ourselves stretched out we can add two options, hard and deep in the middle to cut off angles and prevent our opponent from using the sidelines without so much risk, and the second option especially if our opponent has extreme forehand grips, which are very common nowadays, is to go down the line with slice over the forehand at least clearing the service box line to force a low height shot that is never comfortable for someone with those grips and we might cause a miss hit or a more playable ball to start creating spaces of our own. Possible solutions for balls in the backhand:
- Train balls in comfortable neutral stances and defensive balls in semi-open stances regularly, refer to the forehand solutions when it comes to decision making according to pace, spin and depth, taking hard balls without time in semi-open and easier balls in neutral stances going down the line or more aggressive on the front foot
- Train hard or higher shots down the middle left of the baseline and slice down the line as alternatives in case we cannot reach the ideal area of landing for our crosscourt backhands or if we are facing extreme forehand grips
Hope this can help you to play high percentage and aggressive tennis from the baseline, we stay in touch, there will be more articles to come!
Check the options taken from the baseline by Federer and Nadal and see very carefully how they keep a high pace in the rally going to safe places of the court in case they cannot attack